Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

As Bob left the house this morning wearing a hat and his longjohns, bringing gloves with him, I was reminded once again that winter is coming. I think this weather has more to do with the pro golf tournament being held out at Turning Stone. The weather gods want to keep Central New York pristine, so it dis-encourages people coming to this area. In Seattle there was a popular bumper sticker: "Have you been mean to a tourist today?" Of course, more than half the population had come from somewhere else, and we all knew that Seattle was not the rainy city that has always been promoted. The same with here. A week from now it will be 70 degrees again with brilliant October sunshine. Just have to get those golfers out of here first!

Currently there are 154 active listings in the Skaneateles area as defined by the multiple listing service. Only one new one came on this week, a 3 bedroom under $200,000 in the Jordan-Elbridge School District. No, I take that back. A second property came on and was marked contingent two days later.

More on this. The house had six bedrooms, in the town of Skaneateles but with Marcellus schools, and was priced $80,000 under its assessed value (over $200,000). It looked to be in good shape and sat on two acres. And, as I said, it sold.

Two reasons come to mind. One is that there may be issues with the area and perhaps the people felt it would be devalued soon and they needed to sell quickly. The second that I prefer, is that the agent tried what I call a "California listing." Back in the halcyon days when everything in that state sold for 5 times what it sold for previously, and on the second day of the listing, agents would throw properties on for less than the owner wanted to receive. They then sat back and waited for the offers to flood in, often over 10 the first day. Obviously a bidding war ensued, the owners waited it out, and the buyers set the market price through their bids. The lack of supply of homes dictated the conditions. Of course now there are a glut of homes and prices are falling, these precipitous buyers are "under water" (homes are mortgaged for far more than their worth), and there's a housing crisis. But those were the good old days - always with a price!

California listings didn't work as well here. For waterfront, perhaps, because there was so little for so long. For regular homes, if an agent put the home on the market for much less than the home appeared to be worth, it was suspicious, just as I was suspicious of this sale. And generally because these type of listings weren't done, offers came in under the asking price. We just don't have the oversupply of buyers to create the conditions necessary.

There was another home marked contingent - a beautiful waterfront well over one million.

A new closing brought the year-to-date numbers to 59. We are almost there to our third group of 20 when I will post the addresses and sale prices. The new one was listed for years with different Realtors. When it was a quiet for sale by owner I was told the price was $425,000. The last listed price was in the mid-$200,000 range, but the closed price was almost $30,000 higher. I am sure there's a story there, but congratulations to the owner!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Weekends Away

In the fall Bob's family pulls up stakes wherever they are and journeys to the Adirondacks (usually) for a weekend to celebrate his mother's birthday. This started after his father died in 2002 because she wanted the family around her. "The family" means seven married children with many children, step-children and now great-grandchildren as well. The first year we numbered 30 for Saturday night dinner at a restaurant in Old Forge. We never went out to eat again, en masse!

In other years we've stayed at the incredible Sagamore Great Camp, the past home of the Vanderbilts. After a four mile drive into the estate from Route 28, we took over the lodge for the weekend. We walked, had bonfires, huge dinners with the other guests (meals included but don't be late!) and then toured Old Forge on Sunday afternoon. Accommodations were single rooms in the lodge - you can see footage of it in "The Good Shepherd," a Matt Damon film a few years back.

This time we stayed where we started in 2002, Rocky Point in Inlet, about 12 miles north of Old Forge. These are condos right on Fourth Lake with a pool, spa, tennis courts, and lake frontage. They are wonderful! Each one has three bedrooms with three baths, kitchen, living/diningroom, wood-burning fireplace and decks. All are decorated with the Adirondack theme - lots of moose, bears, bark, red, black and green. And they're new - no mice, as my sisters-in-law would add.
Check them out at

Since we were so close to Old Forge we ventured out early, scraping ice off the car. After breakfast at the Hard Luck Cafe in Eagle Bay we went horseback riding. For over an hour we walked through the trails on a brilliantly clear day. Everywhere we looked the colors were fantastic! We gave Luke, our nephew, a ride for his 14th birthday present. He grinned all the way! We went on into Old Forge for some shopping, then came back for a swim.

Dinner was a family affair, moving between two condos with an eye on the SU game. At halftime "Grandma" and Luke celebrated their birthdays, then back to the game. The younger set - college and into their 30s grandchildren - had a bonfire into the wee hours at the gazebo on the lake. I slept amazingly well both nights, despite our condo being the one with the poker party on Friday night and the late adult revelers on Saturday night.

Sunday we went home through Old Forge with the obligatory stop for breakfast at Keyes Pancake House. Those pecan pancakes! It misted at first, and then downright rained so we never took the top off the Honda del Sol but we'd had a great ride Friday in the late afternoon sunshine. We got home safely and built a fire, the dogs and cats well-cared for in our absence by Frank from "Walk the Dog Services."

I realize that so many people have moved into the area recently and may not know that this great spot is only about two and a half hours from Skaneateles. I was in the midst of a deal that might have required me to return over the weekend. I resolved that I would, obviously, if needed and could easily do it with a few hours leeway. They call at 9:00 - I'm there by 12:00. And there was cell service, if spotty.

When I checked the website for Rocky Point this morning I saw the condos in snow. Great place for cross-country, or winter hiking. We may go up this winter with friends for a weekend.

Suddenly I am ready for fall.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

I spent this evening doing a walk-through of a lovely property. Way out in the country, the trees starting to turn, mist rising over the hill being caught by the setting sun. I wanted to pull up a chair and sit on the wrap-around porch and watch the night come in. But I had miles....and go before I sleep...and this update to write as well.

Currently there are 155 active listings in the Skaneateles area of the multiple listing service. Seven are new. Three are basic re-lists - reductions in price, a "new look and number" in the computer. (An agent can hit a button and come up with the history of the property.) Four are new. Two are town properties under $200,000. One has an amazing almost 200 acres with gorgeous views of the lake - development anyone? Castle? The last one is actually out of the county and in the Homer school district, but has a tremendous view of the lake.

Two homes were marked newly contingent. One is in the half million dollar range and the other well below $100,000 - what took that one so long? It seemed to be such a good deal! Add to that a new waterfront property gone straight to pending, and we can expect more closings in the next 60 days.

But not now! Still 58 single family residences are closed, year-to-date. The tax credit will end soon despite the pleas of every agent working with first-time homebuyers, and the New York State mortgage credit is still being planned, it seems.

Closing on a home, especially one that is a dream home, also brings with it a certain post-partum depression. There's that question underlying everything - is this what I really wanted? And if I did, did the family? What did I leave behind? Every change is difficult, but moving brings both joy and sorrow. Still...."You're never old 'til regrets take the place of dreams." Kudos to the people who act on their dreams!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Vacation Thoughts

Last week we went to the Cape for a few days. We've gone in the past. The first time we brought my mother and a hurricane hit while we were there, after hours of being stuck in traffic trying to get there well before the storm. We came back early. The second time it was just us and the dogs. I spent a marvelous September beach day sitting in the sun and strolling the beach. We went up to Provincetown and ate lunch outside (with the dogs lying peacefully under the table) and rambled through the town looking into the shops.

That was a particularly good vacation. Generally wherever we go has extraordinarily bad weather (hurricanes and frosts) while at home it's a week of unseasonably lovely weather or fantastic blizzards we would have enjoyed. So it's always with trepidation that we set out.

This was no exception. Bob went up early - it's a working vacation for him - and I followed with Koko the next day. We ate at a fish place that didn't compare with Doug's, but I did like the scrod with Newburg sauce. We played miniature golf in the wind. The next day Bob's stomach rebeled and although he tried to make it to Provincetown like the trooper he is, we came back quite soon without eating. We did walk through town and Boo became the most popular dog there. While I got pastries from the Portuguese bakery (some kind of sweet potato filling - yum!) Bob told me several people who had met Boo earlier stopped to shake his paw again.

I left them at the house in Harwich and went off with Koko to explore. Eventually I landed in Chatham and the sun came out. We had a marvelous time walking down the street, looking - and being invited in! - at shops. I stopped at a tiny coffee house with an outdoor stone patio and a few chairs and tables and basked in the sun with Koko at my feet. Sipping chai after a crumb cake, I thought I was in heaven.

Yes, the vacation did the trick - four offers, one listing - but none are completed. I missed the salmon at Doug's, my afternoon latte from Vermont Coffee, the soup at the Skaneateles Bakery. The walking was excellent, but I know where to walk to avoid dogs in Skaneateles and I didn't take Koko with me in Harwich. The weather, I heard, was wonderful here. I e-mailed friends from the coffee house while the chai cooled, but it wasn't the same as sitting with them at Creekside. The homes were different - I'd forgotten the Cape's penchant for clapboard on three sides and cedar shakes on the fourth. Especially in Chatham they were well cared for, with colorful doors and shutters. Prices were comparable with Skaneateles.

But there's no place like home. We walked out on our trails last night into that breezy heat with the dogs. We rooted for SU which finally won their first game. Bob split wood from our own trees and I stacked it for the coming winter months on our back deck. We read the morning paper and knew all the players.

I think I love the anticipation of vacations the best. Bob reminds me that they don't always turn out so badly, and we've learned to plan an exit strategy if they do. But home - this wonderful little bit of ever-changing upstate New York - is a vacation every day.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

With my cat, Oscar, helping with the keys and Koko providing good quiet assistance at my feet, I thought I'd slip in this update. I've started a major decluttering project (as Linda at the office says, "Didn't you do that last year?") and it's actually quite pleasant to sit in my studio, as I call it, now that there's less furniture.

There are currently 153 active listings in the Skaneateles area as defined by the multiple listing service. A friend said the "active" A should be for the "asking" price. I can't figure out a witty K for contingent, P for pending, X for expired or C for closing. Suggestions gladly taken!

The seven new listings are actually 5 re-lists and two brand new ones. The latter are new construction in the village at Parkside and a mid/upper $300,000 house in the village that apparently is in foreclosure. They are showing it and will review offers after a couple open houses. Interesting.

There are only two homes marked contingent, and they have been marked that way for a long time. I spoke with a Realtor today who talked about pulling up a couple dozen listings under $150,000 in the Westhill School District only to find that the majority of them were contingent. For the record, "contingent" means there's an offer on it and for several possible reasons - home inspection, need for a mortgage commitment, other home to sell - the house is neither fully available or sold. We are supposed to, ethically, tell any other Realtor who inquires about the property about these offers.

Pending means that it has a commitment, all the other contingencies are satisfied, and it is waiting to close. We have five on the computer, one new one that never went the "K" route, a lovely village home that has come down steadily in price over the past 15 months and apparently has found a new owner.

We are getting close to the magic closed number 60 at which point I will compile a list of the last 20 houses sold and their sale price. We stand at 58, with one new closing. This is actually the most expensive house to have sold this year in Skaneateles, a waterfront in the village. Well done! The price came down to approximately 68% of its original price in May of 2007.

That brings to 4 the number of closed single family homes over a million dollars this year. Last year there were only 34 sales and only one over a million, but that one was 2 million. In 2007, the best year for high end properties, 9 closed and of those 4 were multi-million dollar homes (You can readily see that the original price of the house that just closed made sense then in that market.) Between the years 2003 and 2006 the average number of million dollar homes was 3. Interestingly the year-to-date of all closings ranged from 71 to 77 - very consistent. In 2002 there were only 48 closings altogether and no million dollar homes, as was the case in 2000 (36 closings YTD) In 2001 one home closed over a million - 74 (again!) closed YTD.

I love statistics. They show where we've been and point the direction towards where we're going. Horrible year in 2000, average year in 2001. Skaneateles recovers. Unless the lake dries up - heaven forbid! - or the village folds and allows uncontrolled building that destroys it, property values will continue to rise over the next few decades. So go ahead, buy a piece of it!

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Few Thoughts

I spent the afternoon holding a darling three week old baby. She was born to a couple who had looked for months and months with me for the perfect house. I've written about them before, how hard it was for all of us, how much I despaired that they would ever find something. There was an urgency to it also because the wife was getting older by the minute (aren't we all?) and she wanted to be settled before having another child. The child I held was that dream baby.

There are so many faces to a real estate purchase or sale. These people sold their home with me and their buyer came through me also, right about this time last year. She since has changed jobs and relocated - I hadn't taken the file out of the car before she called to list it! She rented it herself, but what a wild year we've all had.

Yesterday I had lunch with another woman who has become a friend. As we sat at Bluewater - she likes the flatbread veggie sandwich, I love the ahi tuna and avocado salad - she said that I was "the first person she met in Skaneateles." That's true - the Realtor often is. We don't always have as much fun as we had that day, looking back on it, but there are memories always. She now is fully immersed in the Skaneateles lifestyle, has made countless other friends, and is very happy to be here as are her children. And likes her house, too!

I had another call from a woman who will retire soon. She wants to leave the town in which she's lived for years and move up to Syracuse. She has friends and relatives, lived on the lake in the summer, and feels that a larger city will better suit her needs as she ages. But the tug of the known life is hard to break - so between the time she writes me "Yes, I'm ready!" and my response she usually reconsiders. It will happen the way it's supposed to in the end. But as a Realtor I offer options, make more concrete the vision.

I saw a little stone house today as I wound my way through the countryside from Auburn to the new mother's house. I thought how sweet it would be to live on a large piece of property in a small cottage, to tend a garden (I brought her roses for her daughter, Rose) and keep more dogs and cats. I could write then by an open window with a deep ledge....not yet. I enjoy too much what I do, the lives I touch that touch me back.

I am deeply grateful for this experience.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

I can't wait to get all the information. It seems as if there was a lot of movement - new listings, listings changing brokerages, price changes - and hopefully some closings! If you missed it, get the Sunday Post-Standard for the House of the Week. Renee Dwyer's RE/MAX listing has had a great deal of attention from my buyers who are not ready yet to purchase but they absolutely love this property. It's a charmer - and well under $200,000!

Currently there are 146 active listings in the Skaneateles area of the multiple listing service. We have seven new ones, well sort of new, this week. Three are actually new, all outside of the village and in the $250,000 to $350,000 range. One is on the market but can't be seen until mid-October, but the agent wants some exposure at least. The other four have come on either with new agents, new prices, and one with a reduction marked by less acreage for a quicker sale. There is everything - waterfront, village, town, and real country. Prices are all below $350,000.

There were no new contingent sales or pending sales - seven total that have been waiting to close, always the hardest time for the buyers. The sellers can pack and clean and pack some more, maybe go out on a buying spree of their own, but the poor buyers just have to wait - unless of course they're selling their house, too!

We do have three new closed single family homes, bringing the total to 57 for the year. A gorgeous waterfront property closed well over a million dollars with a ten per cent reduction in price. A village home closed within 6 per cent of the list price thanks to the careful pricing of the Realtor who insisted they not "start high and see what happens." And the third closing was 20 per cent below the original asking price, but it was a quick sale, always a good thing.

Last year at this time we had only 33 closed sales. "How do you know," suggested a seller, "that the market is going to fall apart?" That's the important part of pricing - plan for the quick turnaround because as we've all seen the bottom can fall out. By last fall we certainly knew that things were bad - the year before there had been 66 sales and in 2006 71 by that point. To start high was really not an option, but hope springs eternal, as my mother used to say. Now there's a cautionary tale in the numbers. We haven't recovered yet.

But you need to look no further than across the street from Joe's Pasta Garage for inspiration. An adorable little store opened last Friday evening with very little fanfare but with wine-tasting from Pheasant Ridge streetside. Check it out online: And if you're in the neighborhood, take a taste of the peanut brittle. Or get a latte, or take some tapenade or fruit compote home with you. And the cheeses! Be still my heart! The whole place might put you in a buying mood, so wander down Jordan and into our office, right next to Doug's Fish Fry.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

I can't wait! Next week the Fair will be over, the kids will be back in school, and people's minds and hearts will turn once again to real estate. Whether it's buying the first home (or the first one in three years) and claiming the tax credit before it's too late or picking up the lakefront property that is such a good deal or just getting one of the village homes to hold on to, the fall buying season will be upon us! Until then.....

There are currently 141 active listings in the Skaneateles area as defined by the multiple listing service of Greater Syracuse. Over the past week 6 new single family homes were added: 3 re-lists and 3 new. The re-lists feature two waterfront properties that have been reduced substantially over the course of their exposure (that good deal I mentioned). The third is the same house at the same price with a new list number so we don't forget it's out there. Two small village homes came on, both under $200,000 - buy them now, rent them out, save them for your retirement home some day. The third new one is over 100 acres with a house - Jordan-Elbridge Schools, town of Skaneateles.

There is only one house marked contingent and it's been there a bit. We do have eight pending properties, that go along with the media reports of pending properties having increased 3% in July. Two are new ones, having gone straight to pending - both under $200,000 with one in the town and the other in the village.

There is one new closed property to bring our total for the year to 54. It came on at a good price in April and sold within 6% of the list price in July, closed in August. Nineteen of the closed properties this year were listed in 2009 - and I bet we can do better as the year progresses (for a number of reasons...mostly statistical).

Because the new closing was in the high $300,000 I thought I'd look at the numbers for Skaneateles, Camillus, Marcellus and Onondaga. In Camillus, only four houses listed over that magic number closed this year, and two sold for less. In Marcellus one house sold for well over $300,000 - but they originally had wanted over $600,000. Onondaga had a better percentage - of the 109 houses that closed 7 were over $300,000. But Skaneateles - 31 of the 54 homes were listed for over $300,000 and all but one closed over that. We are still the most expensive town in Central New York.

Good or bad? I suppose it means that our values will remain; I am sure, but would have to check of course, that overall the property values have increased in the past 10 years. Dramatically increased, thanks to restaurants like Rosalie's and the lovely Mirbeau Spa and Inn. We are definitely on the map as a destination year-round, and that brings in the investors. As one of them, and I paraphrase, said, "What's not to like? I wake up at 4:20 and just want to run through the village, I'm so happy to be here!" Thank goodness he's a jogger! So get your waterfront home that you've always wanted, buy the small retirement home - prices may dip a bit more, but some day they'll zoom up again!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Zumba and Other Good News

Last winter when I was working out on my stationary bike I ran across an infomercial on Zumba ("Ditch the workout, join the party!"). It intrigued me because I'd had an inquiry on one of my commercial properties from a woman who wanted to lease space for classes. She told me a bit about it, and it sounded like fun. Noisy fun, not the best for the office space available, but fun nevertheless.

As the summer wound down and I felt the need for movement, I looked into it. There's a website - - and when I searched I came up with a place where it was being taught. I considered going - what the heck! - and asked around if anyone knew anything about it.

The woman who does my hair at Carlo's Salon said she went to a class once. She tried to do too much and wrecked up her knee, then when she slacked off the instructor yelled at her. Oh my! Not the best introduction, but forewarned is forearmed.

I checked it out - a class was being held at 6:00 at Dancing Kats ( up in North Syracuse. I didn't have to pre-register, I could just go, so I did.

It was fantastic! For an hour along with 9 other women I moved. I can't say I danced, because I hardly did that. But I moved and sweated and got my heartrate up and most of all smiled. The music is fast and furious and salsa and fun. I constantly went right when the rest of the class went left, I turned when I should have stayed put, I was three beats behind everyone, but no one seemed to care.

Two other women were new, also, and we just laughed. We didn't get yelled at, we were instructed to do as much as we felt capable, and the comfort level was high. A woman stopped me afterwards and told me that everyone had been where I was (new) and that it takes time to feel at ease. She suggested it would take 6 to 10 classes. But the workout, with or without ability to dance, was great!

I went back Monday morning, early. I'll continue to go back because for $7 - yes, $7! - I get to smile and sweat and feel very good about getting fit. The second time I actually jumped when I was supposed to, discovered a few steps I could do, and figured a bit of it out. And the energy! Amazing!

Laughing is good for the soul. I was buying a new birdfeeder because the squirrels ate the last one and as I left Ace Hardware a fairly large - 300 pounds? - man was coming in. He wore a t-shirt that read "I Beat Anorexia." Do you laugh? Acknowledge it? Or just smile.

Driving through the village I saw an elderly woman rolling down the sidewalk in her wheelchair. A dog was trotting out in front, and I could see she held his leash in her left hand. I don't think he was pulling her, I think she was taking him for a walk through the village on a peaceful late summer day. How lovely!

Just a reminder - this week is the Skinnyman (person) Triathlon, Check it out! Then go get some cotton candy and a ride at the Labor Day Field Days in Austin Park.